October 19, 2012

Messy but Right

We correctly surmise from both God’s Word (i.e., Psalm 139:13-16, among many other passages) and simple observation of the world around us that no two people are alike. Biological siblings raised by the same parents in the same circumstances may look or act nothing alike and often choose markedly different paths in life. Even identical twins, despite physical similarities and a special psychological connection with each other, demonstrate significant differences in personality, temperament, and gifting.

As a result, people are “messy.” We’re not machines like this tragic "Cyborg Child," designed to be programmed such that we’ll all do the same things at the same pace at the same age. Instead, when it comes to our development – physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually – each one has a God-ordained path that is not the same as anyone else’s. Of course, that complicates our interactions with each other, and we long for something simpler.

I believe our culture’s tendency toward “standardizing” children’s learning is an outgrowth of this desire for simplicity. We want a guarantee that, if we require all children to study the same content in the same way at the same ages, each one will follow along at the prescribed pace and all will have the same (good) outcome when we deem them to have reached adulthood. Because we love our kids and our country, we want some way to measure that we’ve done our job as grown-ups to help each child succeed. So we write policies and pass laws delineating a narrow definition of “success” and mandating that certain concepts be covered in particular “grade levels.” Then we expect every child to follow the same route and go at the same speed.

The motivation behind such efforts is laudable – but it’s misguided considering the reality that each of us is a unique, one-of-a-kind, unrepeatable miracle. As I mentioned in my last piece, “we [do] need to insure that each young person attains a high level of functionality in skill areas necessary for managing as an independent adult. But we also ought to accept that each child will gain mastery in those areas at different rates. Further, we must stop expecting all children to master every specialty area. Instead, we do well to enable each young person to find and develop her particular areas of strength so she can celebrate and fully live out who she [is really] supposed to be.”

Making sure each child is respected as a unique individual is hard work; it’s easier to try forcing them to function as machines. But acknowledging scriptural and observable reality when it comes to our children’s learning is the truly loving and morally right thing to do, messy as it is.


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